Saddam Hussein continues mischief U.S. retaliates but can't prevent it

August 20, 1993|By Knight-Ridder Newspapers

WASHINGTON -- Three years after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the United States is still struggling with the military chicanery of Saddam Hussein and remains bedeviled by his political tenacity.

In an ironic reminder of Mr. Hussein's survival skills, two Iraq surface-to-air missiles whizzed past American jets patrolling northern Iraq yesterday -- setting off the latest U.S.-Iraqi fracas just 16 days after the anniversary of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.

The U.S. aircraft, which escaped harm, wasted no time retaliating. Cluster bombs and laser-guided bombs destroyed the Iraqi missile site.

Baghdad later denied that its air defenses fired missiles. But the Pentagon described the Iraqi attack as the latest -- and one of the most serious -- of more than 20 "incidents" in just the past eight months.

Because of the number of Iraqi assaults and responding American attacks, the on-again, off-again military conflict is becoming familiar and unquestioned.

No crisis erupts even though a missile attack on an American plane would have prompted a war in days past. Few question the continued right of the West to bomb Iraq whenever a provocation is determined.

The relationship resembles that of a stern parent with a petulant child.

4 Mr. Hussein hits. The United States hits harder.

The Clinton administration seems content to leave it at that, following the example set by the Bush administration in the days after the Persian Gulf War.

In the short term, the policy seems safe. Even though Mr. Hussein remains in power, he makes no significant gains in military strength or political power.

But there could be negative long-term consequences of letting Mr. Hussein flaunt his defiance, according to some foreign policy analysts.

"This new world order is unfolding on its own with no one helping it to take shape," says Soli Ozel, a professor of Middle East studies at the Paul Nitze School of International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

Keeping tough international economic sanctions in place has not unseated Mr. Hussein as hoped. Instead, it has caused hardships not only for the civilians of Iraq but also for neighboring countries, such as U.S.-ally Turkey, which rely on trade benefits from Baghdad.

Mr. Ozel thinks it is time for the United States and other members of the international coalition it assembled against Iraq to rethink their current policy of inaction.

"The lack of policy characterizes a lack of a strategic framework," Mr. Ozel says. "The thing to do would be to find a way to resolve whatever problems there are between Iraq and the world and get on with things."

John Hannah, deputy director of the Washington institute for Near East Policy, agrees that a reactive policy of containment ultimately works to the disadvantage of the United States.

"It puts the initiative in Saddam's hands," says Mr. Hannah, who advocates more U.S. military and economic aggressiveness.

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